There is no such thing as a comfortable at-bat against Odrisamer Despaigne. Between his high-kicking, torso-spinning delivery and dizzying litany of pitches, Despaigne is the very definition of befuddling.
And most of the hitters who've faced the San Diego Padres' rookie right-hander have indeed been befuddled.
Despaigne made his major league debut on June 23, tossing seven scoreless frames against the San Francisco Giants. He followed that up with four more quality starts, culminating in a near-historic gem July 20 against the New York Mets.
In that game, Despaigne came agonizingly close to throwing the first no-no in Padres history, recording 26 outs without surrendering a hit before Daniel Murphy slashed a double with two down in the ninth (the Pads wound up winning, 2-1).
In his last start, Despaigne looked mortal, giving up five runs on six hits to the Atlanta Braves in 3.2 innings. But that speed bump merely underscored how good he's been. And can be.
What's the secret to the 27-year-old Cuban's early success? Variety. Balance-disrupting, head-scratching variety.
"He's so unique," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley told MLB.com's Corey Brock. "Right away, I could see it was going to be difficult for the opposition to study 12 different types of pitches."
Yes, you read that right. Twelve different pitches. Twelve different ways to fool a batter. Twelve different ways to get a swing-through, a jam shot, a weak ground ball.
It starts with the arm slot, which, Balsley explains, vacillates from high three-quarter to low three-quarter to sidearm.
"He has a good feel for all of them," Balsley said. "It's very instinctive for him."
That could stem from experience. Despaigne may be an MLB rookie, but he's no baseball newbie. He made his debut with the Cuban Industriales in 2007, went on to play for the Cuban national team and defected in 2013 while playing in Europe, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
He inked a modest minor league deal with the Padres in May, per MLBTradeRumors.com, and showed flashes. But it wasn't clear, at the time of his call-up, how effective he'd be.
"From our reports and listening to our minor league people ...there were stretches of really good pitching," San Diego skipper Bud Black told Brock. "Whether it was an inning, two innings or an at-bat, he couldn't put together a complete minor league game for whatever reason."
Under the bright big league lights, that's changed.
Now the necessary caveat: it's early still. Way early. There's no guarantee Despaigne's success will continue uninterrupted, or at all, as CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder argues:
He's new to all the hitters he has been facing and with such a deceptive delivery along with a mix of deceptive pitches, it's not difficult to see why he has had such great fortune thus far. More hitters will get looks at his stuff and familiarize themselves with him through video and advanced scouting reports and then it'll be up to Despaigne to prove he can adjust to the adjustments.
Despaigne doesn't overpower; his fastball tops out in the low 90s. And he pitches the bulk of his games in the pitcher's playground that is Petco Park. He could be due for a regression. MLB hitters, as Snyder points out, tend to adjust.
Then again, once upon a time, a Cuban hurler with a high leg kick, multiple arm angles and an abundant arsenal arrived on U.S. soil and started befuddling hitters. And he never really stopped over the course of a memorable nine-year big league career.
We're talking, as you've surely guessed, about Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who's been used frequently as a comp for Despaigne. ("Here's hoping Orlando Hernandez was somewhere near a television set," MLB.com's Phil Rogers wrote after Despaigne's near no-hitter.)
He's a long way from El Duque territory. He's a long way from a full season, in fact. For now, Despaigne needs to keep making hitters uncomfortable—and the rest will follow.